Many ministers struggle with obesity

  • Follow Your Faith

A pastor admitting to an affair or a drug problem typically spells a quick end to his tenure at the church, but there's one addiction that the clergy falls prey to that rarely makes headlines.

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Ed Chavis, the associate pastor at Lumpkin Road Baptist Church, works out before daylight at Omni Fitness in Evans. Chavis lost 143 pounds while participating in Augusta's Biggest Loser contest.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Ed Chavis, the associate pastor at Lumpkin Road Baptist Church, works out before daylight at Omni Fitness in Evans. Chavis lost 143 pounds while participating in Augusta's Biggest Loser contest.

A recent study published by the Obesity Society's journal found that 40 percent of United Methodist clergy members ages 35 to 64 are obese.

Obesity is certainly not limited to Methodists, of course. Jarrod Adkins, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Gibson, Ga., said a lot of clergy members boast that their lips have never touched alcohol.

"But how many of our feet have touched a treadmill?" said Adkins, who is also the student director at the Southern Bible Institute and Seminary in downtown Augusta.

Adkins said that although living a healthful lifestyle doesn't come up in classes with aspiring clergy members, it is an important issue in the ministry.

"It's (obesity) not a good testimony for us," Adkins said.

The study's authors at Duke University cite several reasons for the high obesity rates. Serving a church can be a stressful blend of business meetings, services, visitations and study that stretches a typical week out to 50 hours of work.

There are regular church potluck dinners crammed with all sorts of fried delights and desserts. Kind, older women often ply ministers with baked goods, and it's considered a serious faux pas to turn down food during visitation.

Adkins acknowledges all that and adds that it's much easier and cheaper to stop for fast food in between all the obligations on a pastor's schedule.

Robin Swift, the director of Duke University's Clergy Health Initiative's health programs, would add some other factors to that list.

It's tough for pastors, especially in small towns, to find a private place to work out, Swift said. One pastor involved in the study told researchers that he tried to work out in a gym but was stopped before every machine by someone who wanted to talk about a church or family matter.

Ed Chavis, the associate pastor at Lumpkin Road Baptist Church, is proof that all these fitness challenges can be overcome.

During six months as a contestant on Augusta's Biggest Loser , Chavis dropped from 342 pounds to 199 pounds.

Now he's sharing his success story and urging other ministers from Wisconsin to Australia, some of whom weigh more than 500 pounds.

"Gluttony is the only sin preachers will joke about from the pulpit," Chavis said.

Chavis didn't have any serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, associated with his weight, although he was constantly sweating and out of breath.

His wake-up call was when a music minister he knew dropped dead because of obesity.

Chavis believes pastors and Christians in general overindulge in food because their faith is full of "don'ts." Compared to fornication, stealing, murder, lying and adultery, overeating is tame.

"It's a legal addiction, of sorts," said Chavis, who recognized signs of his addiction -- such as hiding the money spent on fast food -- during the weight loss.

Two months have passed since Chavis became Augusta's biggest weight loser, and he continues to visit the gym before daylight.

He's in the maintenance phase now and continues to watch his habits.

His writes a blog for accountability and to inspire others.

The pictures of his past self are a reminder of how far he has come.

"It's crazy looking back on it," Chavis said.

ONLINE EXTRA

Read Ed Chavis' blog detailing his weight-loss journey at: echavis64.blogspot.com.

FOR MORE information on healthy lifestyles for clergy members, visit the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke University: www.divinity.duke.edu/programs/health/about/document_view.


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